Friday, October 15, 2004

Casino Banal

So last Sunday morning I'm walking around the main floor of the Rolling Hills Casino in Corning, California, and I'm fighting the mental image of Christ amongst the moneychangers.

I'm there because we're doing brunch - me, Kate, her sister Sharon, Sharon's husband Mike. There aren't a lot of places to do brunch in a small town like Corning, and the casino had a very good spread at very low prices, the menu being subsidized by the flashing slots and pai gow poker tables. The buffet is non-smoking, but the casino floor adjacent isn't, and the miasma of cigs drifts in. Its Sunday morning, and most of the seats in front of the slots are occupied, the crowd mostly white (Mike's comment - "We got the natives drunk and took their stuff - now they're getting us drunk and doing the same"). The natives in this case are the Paskenta Band of the Nomlaki tribe, orginally indigineous to the area. They lost federal tribal recognition in 1959, but regained it in 1994. The 240-member tribe acquired a 2000 acre reservation and set up a casino (all this is pulled from their web site).

It is a local industry, and very successful (they are adding on a hotel). But to be frank, it all creeped me out. Not just the stale tobacco odor and the epilepsy-inducing flashing lights, but the mindless mechanization of pulling cash out of people's pockets. The slots were the worst - reducing the older clientelle (a lot of walkers, a lot of motorized carts with American flags and yellow ribbons on them) to hamster-like button-mashing and lever-pulling. I could feel Puritan-level sense of indignation festering in my breast.

After brunch, Kate went outside to practice her Tai Chi while Sharon, Mike, and I walked the floor - Sharon was looking for an old-fashioned nickel-slot machine. It turned out the old coin-drop machines had been retired - there were still 5-cent-a-play machines, but you had to invest a larger bill or buy a ticket (similar to the "Electronic Ticket" machines being touted in I-892). You had to commit. None of this "clear out the change in your pocket" kind of machines. Not enough profit per square footage from that. Sharon was disappointed, and we left without pulling a single lever.

Even for my apostate eyes, I found it all a bit much for a Sunday morning - the noise and the smoke and the soul-dead eyes. I thought of Christ going ballistic on the moneychangers in the temple, but took a deep breath (once outside) and imagined a different outcome - Christ walking through the main floor, and as he passed, machine after machine would jackpot, imprinting on the tickets win after win. No clatter of coins into the bowl, but rather a rise in the noise as the cash flowed back outwards. Then he'd probably recruit a few of the players as disciples and catch a lift to Red Bluff on a flatbed Chevy.

That image made me feel a little better.

More later,